GUWAHATI: MP Neiphiu Rio wanted to achieve something he could not as the Chief Minister of Nagaland. So, the three-time former Chief Minister, who is known to be a strong votary of the ongoing peace process between the Centre and Naga insurgent group National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), contested the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and won it convincingly. But his victory has only made his challenges harder.
For over a decade, Rio had headed a coalition government that played the role of a facilitator to seek an early solution of the protracted Naga political problem. But he, or for that matter the Democratic Alliance of Nagaland government, of which his party Naga People’s Front (NPF) is a major constituent, could achieve very little as evident from the logjam in the peace talks.
The NPF is a long-time ally of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). Rio’s calculations were that if he got elected, he would be inducted into the ministry, which will enable him to vigorously pursue the issue of the Naga political problem. But he was not picked despite his personal equation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP’s public commitment to NPF that he would be given an “important portfolio” if the NDA rose to power. Rio had met Modi at least twice ahead of the formation of the NDA government, apparently to press for his inclusion.
He was a part of the NDA delegation that met President Pranab Mukherjee ahead of Modi’s swearing-in as the Prime Minister. He was also seen prominently at the Central Hall of Parliament where Modi had delivered a speech post his swearing in.
The Naga peace process has always been high on the agenda of DAN government. In fact, the Nagaland Legislative Assembly passed several resolutions in this regard. But a solution continues to elude the Nagas.
“If I’m elected, I can push for the solution of the Naga issue. The Naga movement is the mother of all insurgency problems in the Northeast and as such, if you resolve it, you can resolve the others,” Rio had told journalists in the lead-up-to Lok Sabha polls.
The general perception here is that Rio, as an MP, can do very little vis-a-vis the vexed political problem. But the NPF refuses to buy that argument.
“Whether he is picked or not in the ministry is not the issue. The issue is the Naga political problem and he will continue to pursue it. He aspires to do so. Even as an MP, he will do his job. He has always been vocal on expediting the peace process,” an NPF leader told Express.
The influential Naga Hoho, which is Nagaland’s apex civil society organisation, holds a similar view. “He can pursue all issues. We are sure he is doing his job,” said Naga Hoho president Chuba Ozukum.
The Naga insurgency dates back to 1950s. The state currently has at least five armed extremist groups. The two factions of the National Socialist Council of Nagaland are in ceasefire with the government. Over the last 17 years since they entered into a ceasefire, the Centre-NSCN (Isak-Muivah) have held over 70 rounds of talks both within and outside the country, but the issue remains unresolved.
The outfit’s one of the most contentious demands is the creation of “Greater Nagaland” by slicing off the Naga-inhabited areas of Assam, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh.